The Barn at 7F Lodge is a convincing miniature of the barn in Carol’s story about a worn and weary cowboy, Coop, who discovers this safe haven and takes shelter there from a deadly winter. He eventually falls into passionate love with the owner of the barn, Eleanor, and finds himself drawn to the warmth and desire that emanates from the building from then on. Our barn might be more comfortable than the one in the story, but it definitely has all of the romance
Coop has spent many, many years riding every day for the Rocking G Brand since he was barely fifteen. He left his home in DeWitt County to cowboy for the O’Connor Ranch as not as much a runaway as a run ahead kind of young man anxious to get on with his future. Rail thin with curly brown hair and shocking, almost uncomfortable, blue eyes, the older cowboys joked that he couldn’t weigh one hundred pounds when he showed up scared from some family pain that he was never willing to admit to. But, now he was closing in on forty and the green hand of decades ago was barely visible. Time and experience had made their mark.
His story of a life on the trail was told through his leathery hands, ragged face and aching joints. It was a hard life, but he was born to it. His only real home was his bedroll and his only companion was Trig, a stout Bay gelding with a smart head and alert ears. Coop had come to love Trig like a son. Their work together was an unspoken, intuitive conversation without any words. Trig just knew what to do and when. On Coop’s look, Trig knew. On Coops rein, Trig responded. In a moment of danger, Trig stepped fast and carefully and often they worked as one.
Coop and Trig knew every creek, every bluff, and every saloon and brothel between Victoria and Kansas City. But tonight, he didn’t know where he was. He had just finished the long ride taking a herd to the stockyards in KC and this would be his last. He drank more and more now, and the pain of his past with the back pain of his present never let up while he was on the trail. Whiskey was the only escape.
The trail boss, anxious to cull any weakness, told him with a sting that he’d no longer be needed. It was the whiskey that controlled his life, so he headed back to Texas alone, not sure where he’d go. Trying to fend off any emotion, he thought he might try the Cleburne Ranch. Most any good ranch needed a seasoned hand.
So, he and Trig headed south with the chill of an early winter setting in. Before nightfall, a cold and angry northern wind beat against his ragged face. The temperature dropped across the open plains of Kansas and even the chill couldn’t shake the chill in his soul. A snowfall at dusk wouldn’t let up. “Blizzard!” he thought. Trig walked on.
Within hours, Trig became disoriented. A white-out ensued and uncertain without perception, Trig tripped over a downed tree and panicked, sending Coop to the ground hard and unprepared. He could tell his knee was shattered. It took all of his strength to coax Trig back to him and to hoist himself into his frozen saddle. They forged on, but the cold was winning. Pneumonia soon set in, and now Coop’s chills were from fever. He was delirious.
The fall dumped his last bottle of whiskey and Coop faded in and out of consciousness without any liquor. Trig knew he had to lead the way if they were to survive. Unable to follow the trail, Trig pressed on in what he felt was the right direction.
After some time, Trig approached a lone barn. Coop regained some consciousness, startled by the sound of another horse’s whinny. Trigs’ ears perked and his pace quickened. Ahead was a cedar barn with a wide pair of doors, runs on both sides, and a hay loft above. Coop was too delirious to see the house nearby, much less get to it. Besides, Coop never asked for help. He was too proud. He made a vow at fifteen never to ever ask for help again and never to show any weakness.
Eleanor was considered somewhat plain by townsfolk, but she had an inner radiance and a natural beauty still visible after years and years of hard work on this farm. It was unfortunate that she was widowed at the mere age of eighteen after a brief marriage to a young man that, above all things, made her laugh. For years she had been brokenhearted over life’s misfortune and found herself without a smile, just continuous sighing as she managed so many chores alone. She hired out labor to work her two hundred acre wheat field and split the take with the workers.
After a walloping fifteen years alone, she had long forgotten the touch of a man, a real man. In her fantasy, her husband was still alive and they were laughing and teasing each other as they watched their world grow. But in her reality, the only affection she had in her life was from her memories.
This night was just another cold and acrimonious night for Eleanor after another long and challenging day of tending all that was necessary to stay alive and she was ready to call it a day. Kansas offered the best in wheat fields, but the loneliest of winter nights. Months would pass with the snow blanketing everything and tonight’s storm was the first of many.
Knowing that the animals still needed fresh water and perhaps some more bedding hay, she grabbed a long, green, cape-like coat, tied a black hat over her head and pulled on the thickest leather gloves she owned. She pushed through the blistering wind, fierce with snow and sleet, to get to the barn. With no visibility, she knew it was dangerous, but the job had to be done. Following the fence, she made her way to the barn.
As she opened the door to the barn, Trig snorted, and startled Eleanor. Frightened that it could be some of the last Indians in the area, she turned to find Coop on the ground burning with fever. She acted fast.
Unable to move him very far, she got him inside the barn and out of the storm. She led Trig to a stall and unsaddled him, curious by the saddlebags that held few possessions and the old, old saddle tied with a bedroll. “A cowboy headed home,” she thought to herself. “He should know better than this!”
She acted fast. Maneuvering back and forth to the house, Eleanor nursed Coop for nine, long days. Finally, he woke in a haze to see her face above him and then she saw those weary blue eyes, pleading. They pierced her heart like the laughter of yesterday.
“Where am I?” he wondered. She wanted to tease him.
“You are at the Lazy 8 and you’ve been just that, lazy!” He buckled.
“Get me my horse and I’ll be gone.” He was indignant. He was hoping for whiskey and a rougher woman that knew his needs. Surely a saloon was not that far away.
“Indians brought you in here,” she teased, “and they sold you to me for about a dollar.” She paused. “I bought your horse for two and your saddle for three.” She waited for a response.
Coop growled at the thought.
“It was a contractual purchase: for the winter and winter only. You have nowhere to go, I suspect, and I have chores that need tending. And if you’re groaning at the price, I’ll have invested in feeding you and your horse for those months, so it’s not the fairest trade I’ve ever made, but the ways of the world have brought you to my door and a deal is a deal. Fair enough?”
“I ride for a living, Ma’am. I am only on my way back to Texas to take on a new job.”
She heard the word new and realized that he was more desperate than she’d thought. “Where?” she pushed.
“None of your business,” he twisted, trying to pull himself up and out of the makeshift bed she’d made. On her look, he realized that she was looking for fun and had found a grouch. She was disappointed. Thinking she was unhappy that he’d not been grateful for the care, he backed up his sentence. “It’s none of your business, Ma’am, because now I am your business.” Thinking fuzzily now, he went on, “I suppose if I can get warm, by a fire, I’ll be back to new and I’ll start my chores just straight away.” She started a small, mischievous smile.
“But if you’ve paid six dollars for me, my horse and my saddle, then you got taken. The last place those Indians sold me to, only paid five.” They both laughed. And they kept on laughing as she helped him up and led the way to the fireplace inside the house.
By the fire that night, they ate soup and tried to tell taller tales to each other, filling the night with guffaws. At one point, Coop looked at her fresh, plain face and could see the angel that saved his life. His heart opened, which was terrifying. He needed whiskey and she knew it.
Wanting to run, he made his way up and to the door, limping, headed back to the barn and she agreed. In the months that followed, to her surprise, he would finish out the winter. But at this one moment, she expected to find him gone by sunrise. He would run.
Anxious to prove herself wrong, she went to the barn at first light of day and to her relief, peeking in through the door, she found him sleeping. A good sign, she thought. After returning to the house and making breakfast, she called to him with a shout that his meal was ready. Coop limped in through the door and started his first day of work with Eleanor.
Their days blended into nights with good talks and stories and always laughter. One moment, while pulling a strand of hair from her eyes, Coop was realizing that he had fallen in love with the only woman to ever really care for him. No one had ever cared for him. Ever. He was captured by her warm and caring soul and within minutes, both their bodies found each other and entered into a night like no other. Their crazy-mad tension, finally relieved. It was an earthquake.
March third, first sign of spring and Coop was gone. He left in the night with no goodbye. Life alone and life on the trail had taught him that. But mile after mile, Coop found their passion calling him back to the barn in the woods. At one point, he stopped Trig and there they stayed for an hour. So still. So silent.
Then, with firm determination, he turned Trig around and ran like the wind, back to the barn. When Eleanor came at dawn with coffee and to check on him, she noticed Trig out of breath and the saddle warm. It would be the first time he would try to out run love, but in all the countless attempts he would make in the future, he and Trig would always return, before Eleanor could find them gone.
Both Eleanor and Coop are buried, side-by-side, at the back edge of the outer field on a slight rise that overlooks the house and the barn. They were together until they were in their seventies and they laughed every day. Some days all day long.
Coop’s ropes, boots, hat, and shirts, along with the wide front doors, give our Barn an authentic, ruggedly beautiful air. We invite all weary travelers to come find rest (and romance) here in our Barn.
Short Story by: Carol Conlee, first Proprietress of 7F Lodge
Post by: Corinne Johnigan and Caroline Stockdale, Social Media Interns